Iowa's Davis leans on senior QB Vandenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Everything is new for Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
From his players to his fellow coaches and even Iowa City.
It's a good thing Davis has a veteran quarterback to lean on.
The task of installing a new offense during spring practice has been eased considerably by the presence of senior quarterback James Vandenberg.
The pair already has developed a strong working relationship, and Davis said Wednesday he's been impressed by how quickly Vandenberg has grasped his offense.
"Every day when I go to the meeting room, he's already there watching film; he's got a list of questions. He's picked up the things we've changed extremely quickly,'' Davis said. "I think he'll be an outstanding player.''
Davis recently took over for 13-year offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, who left to become the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. Davis had what amounted to a sabbatical last season after leaving Texas following a 5-7 finish in 2010 that, in a place such as Austin, simply didn't cut it.
If Davis wants to help make sure the Hawkeyes don't also finish below .500 in 2012, he'll have to reimagine and reinvigorate an offense that put up points against weaker opposition last season, but struggled mightily against tough defenses.
The Hawkeyes have major holes to fill along the offensive line and at running back, where presumed starter Jordan Canzeri went down with an ACL tear in his knee and could be forced to redshirt in 2012.
But if there's one player Davis can count on, it's Vandenberg.
Vandenberg had a strong first season as Iowa's QB in 2011, throwing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Vandenberg also showed he could thrive in games where he was asked to throw a lot, with 399 yards passing in a furious late rally to beat Pittsburgh. That trait could come in handy given the dearth of experience at running back.
True freshmen Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon are expected to compete for carries this fall with sophomores Damon Bullock - who was moved to wideout before the issue at running back forced him back - and De'Andre Johnson.
Iowa could even turn to 5-foot-10, 230-pound fullback Brad Rogers, whose promising career has been hampered by a heart ailment.
"You always try to play to your strengths. I've always said (Vandenberg) will be one of our strong points,'' Davis said. "I am very pleased with (Bullock and Johnson). I'm extremely pleased with what they've done so far.''
The Hawkeyes have also typically used tight ends more than many programs. Based on what Davis said Wednesday, that will likely continue next season with a group headlined by 6-7, 265-pound junior C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Fiedorowicz started to come on late last season with three TD catches in the final four games, and it sounds as if he'll play a major role in 2012.
The Hawkeyes hired former New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Ferentz to work with the offensive line in the offseason, and Davis hinted Wednesday that Fiedorowicz could be used to create mismatches the way Bill Belichick uses stars Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
"I've never had a tight end like C.J., with his size and his ability to play at the line of scrimmage and also stretch the field,'' Davis said. "There's a term we use with our tight ends: get big in the paint. He knows how to get big in the paint.''
Davis joked that, beyond having to wear a jacket more often, there hasn't been much of a difference between his first spring with Iowa and those he spent with the Longhorns.
"Iowa has a reputation of being extremely physical, well-coached, smart football team. That has been verified,'' Davis said. "The guys like the game. They understand the game.''